Gosford Park - rated - SIMMERING (on low heat)
A dream ensemble
This isn't Robert Altman's finest film, but even a lesser Altman film is
better than most other films.
In many ways this film is a bit of fluff - but it's interesting fluff.
Once again, Altman makes a film that is commenting about film making in
general, and Hollywood in particular. There are homages to Martin Scorsese
(the banquet table-top in The Age of Innocence), and to Jean Renoir's The
Rules of the Game (1939) - even down to shooting of Michael Gambon
during the hunt. And there are deliberate errors. When Bob Balaban (as
Morris Weissman) says he is in London researching one of the Charlie Chan
series of films, we know that is ludicrous. Those things were made at 20th
Century Fox o a shoestring. The idea of travelling to London is just unthinkable.
And when Morris considers Claudette Colbert ("Is she British, or just
affected?"), Clara Bow, and even Alan Mowbray and Una Merkel, for roles
in Charlie Chan - well, they were big stars, and far too big for a B picture.
Altman is testing his audience's general film knowledge!
There's a dream ensemble British cast. All are generous to a fault. best
in my opinion are Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon (a personal favourite),
Helen Mirren, Richard E Grant (who acts the whole thing with his eyebrows
and the occasional snarl), and Ryan Phillipe - which is good going for the
young US actor in such company.
There's the usual top production values from Altman - great muted cinematography
and lighting by Andrew Dunn. & intricate Production Design and Art Direction
by Stephen Altman and Sarah Hauldren respectively The detail is wonderful
- right down to a bottle of poison.
There are a few wrong notes. In a crucial scene involving Emily Watson
as the maid Elsie, I don't think such a maid would have spoken out in those
circumstances. It wasn't even that important to her to justify her losing
control of herself. Co-incidentally, I was reading Margaret Attwood's "Alias
Grace" at the timer, and I was aware of the intense self-control that
servants had to exercise in order to keep their jobs.
The other, more serious slip is in the performance of Stephen Fry as Inspector
Thompson. The movie descends unexpectedly into Music Hall humour as soon
as he arrives, and nothing else in the movie strikes that wrong note. He's
a Vaudeville comedian with a sidekick - and it doesn't sit well with the
tone of the film until then. I can see he's meant to represent the 3rd
class in the film (we've seen lower and upper class, and Thompson is from
the middle class). But Fry makes him a buffoon (constantly shown up by
his lower class assistant), and it's distracting. I was also disappointed
in the off-hand treatment of Alan Bates' character. His dark past was dealt
with in a few minutes, when it was more interesting than that.
But to compensate for these slips, there are scenes like the lovely one
in which the servants listen, rapt, behind the door as Ivor Novello (Jeremy
Northam, superb) sings to entertain the bored and jaded gentry.
Finally, I noticed that there was no "No animal was harmed..."
disclaimer. I think the pheasants were blown to smithereens - and they
probably did kick the dog!
© Michèle M Asprey 2002
This review is copyright. You must not use any part without my permission.